The recent EEOC lawsuit filed against Sidley Austin Brown & Wood LLP raises questions as to whether partners not involved in management are owners or employees. The action was reported in an article written by Anthony Lin of the New York Law Journal. I ran across it on Carolyn Elefant’s MyShingle blog in an article entitled “Big Firm Partners: Not Much More Than Small Time Employees.”
The practice of letting go or demoting less productive partners is not new. Now, it will be scrutinized with Title VII’s age discrimination provisions in mind. One way a partner can avoid finding her/himself in the situation of being let go or otherwise demoted is to start acting like an owner.
Owners care deeply about their business, do not depart each day with the secretarial staff, and generally take responsibility for the ongoing viability of the law firm. Doing so, in part, means undertaking effective marketing to existing clients, referral sources and prospects. Although I have seen these demotions or firings take place over my twenty years in the business, I have never seen a rainmaker let go or “un-equitized.” That includes in smaller firms. The lesson here is simple. Learn to become a vital owner of your firm, and effective marketers fulfill that role.